There are basically three types of Anglicans in this world – apart from the majority of them being black and from Africa – there are those commonly called Evangelicals, those referred to as Anglo-Catholics and the majority that are described sometimes as middle of the road, other times broad church, or perhaps traditional. It has been argued that both the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic are both relatively recent reactions to the ongoing reformation of the Anglican church and, indeed, reactions to one another. Traditional Anglicanism is, then, both of these things living together, the broad church.
The terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’, which are normally thrown with condemnation by one polarity of the church against the other, are really unhelpful. Evangelicals are conservative in relation to the approach to the bible and morality, but liberal in respect of the rites, customs, and liturgies of the church. Anglo-Catholics are conservative regarding the rites, customs and liturgies of the church, but are liberal in their approach to the Bible and morality. The only thing that I can recognise that the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic poles of the church may agree on is the opposition to the ordination of women and consecration of female bishops.
I like to think that I am a traditional Anglican, a broad Anglican, although I don’t like the descriptor of middle of the road, as it suggests that they are somewhere in between and undecided. Broad seems to speak something of both poles living together in creative tension – a foot in both camps. If asked, I describe myself as open, evangelical Anglo-catholic, charismatic and I have great joy in thinking that the Anglo-Catholic pole of the Diocese of Melbourne believe I am one of them and the Evangelical pole of the Diocese of Melbourne believe I am one of them. It is my pleasure to be one of both of them.
Over twelve months ago at a clergy conference I had, because I was a part of the organising committee, invited a bishop from outside the Diocese to present a workshop on the tension to provide creative worship services when the promise we make in our oaths and declarations is “to use the authorised prayer book and no other.” The point of all this is, that in the process of making a thank you speech to the bishop at the end of the workshop, I joked that we needed to cross our fingers when making the oaths and declarations so we could develop creative liturgies. At this point I was publicly harangued by one of my Evangelical colleagues. What was interesting was that many of the Evangelical colleagues who know me came over and apologised and, I was informed later, that many had spoken to him about his behaviour.
Personally, this guy did not know me from Adam, and I still have not had a conversation with him, but others from the Evangelical tradition who do know me, understood that I was making a joke that expressed the reality of the tension that he was cross with me about. Further to this, one of those who corrected his behaviour informed me that in the process he had told him his behaviour was not appropriate because I was one of them. I am an evangelical. But, more importantly, what makes me acceptable to both extremes of the Anglican spectrum is, I think, that I am willing to know, be known, and talk about things of commonality and difference. It is not an either or, it is a both and. The key is companionship – the willingness to walk together and talk about stuff over a meal and glass of wine.
There is a wonderful account in Luke’s gospel (Ch 24) of two disciples, who were not of the twelve, walking together on the way to Emmaus. They were talking together about the things that had happened leading up to Jesus crucifixion, death and burial. They themselves had not been privy to the resurrection, but they were aware that some of the female disciples had reported he was alive. As they walked, the risen Jesus caught up with them, but they did not realise that it was Jesus, and they told him about the events that had taken place. Even when Jesus began to explain how this was foretold in the scriptures, they still did not recognise Jesus until they arrived at the village to which they were heading, urged Jesus to dine with them, and he broke bread and gave it to them – “then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him,” (Lk 24:31) and they found themselves saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road.”
I am mindful of the hymn by Frederick Herman Kaan, the last verse,
Then give us grace, Companion God,
to choose again the pilgrim way,
and help us to accept with joy
the challenge of tomorrow’s day.
Companion from the Latin literally meaning ‘together with bread’ with the sense of ‘someone who breaks bread with you.’
This post resurrection narrative from Luke’s gospel of Jesus breaking bread with two of his disciples is not indicative of the last supper, Holy Communion, but a climax to and a sign of what had taken place on the road. As they discussed the things that had taken place Jesus was in their midst. In their conversation with one another they came to understand and Jesus became present with them.
We are not called to uniformity; we are called to unity in difference through companionship. Unfortunately, recent research in both the Episcopal Church of North America and, more recently, the Church of England in the United Kingdom, is showing that the divide between Evangelical and Anglo-Catholics is growing, particularly by the younger Evangelicals who are becoming more conservative morally and biblically. For me, as a broad church Anglican, this is painful news. Some parts of our church, it seems, have forgotten to be companions.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that we only pay lip service to the doctrine of the Trinity. As Douglas Hall, theologian from Canada writes,
The Trinitarian monument will have to be recast if the Truth to which it was supposed to point is going to become newly visible and viable within the disciple community today. Trinitarian theology is not served well in North America today by those who simply repeat that God is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Professing the Faith, Fortress Press:1993. p72)
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not something that is found in Scripture, but it is consistent with Scripture. It is a doctrine that was developed by the early church because of its experience of how “The Lord our God is one Lord” revealed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and then the Holy Spirit. We have, since then, continually looked back in Scripture to see where the Doctrine of the Trinity is revealed, sometimes with mixed success, as the reading from Proverbs today, for example, can testify. If the “Wisdom” of Proverbs is a reference to the Holy Spirit, how is it that “the Lord created me [that is, the Holy Spirit] at the beginning of his work”?
Without the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity central to our faith and a considered theology of the Trinity, we are missing the essence of how we understand ourselves as a faith community. By theology of the Holy Trinity we are not talking about how we explain the Three in One (I hope we have explored that a little at a previous time – you might remember the triangles), we are considering the implications of a Godhead that is three persons in one God, that is, how does God be God?
Significance in our understanding of how God goes about being a One God in Three Persons is the companionship within the Godhead. Our God is a God who is in fellowship within itself, talking about the things that have happened, are happening, and will happen. And our God chooses to be a companion with his faulty, frail, arrogant, know-it-all, human creation, initially in the Garden of Eden and regained in the living and then resurrected Jesus. God does not reject us because we are different, because we disagree with him, even if we choose not to believe in him. God chooses to be our companion, because it is in his internal nature to be a companion. We have forgotten to be companions to one another in the church because we are not paying due notice to the theological implications of the fundamental doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Consequently, I instructed the Vestry to identify values that give expression to our identity and will bring about transformation of us as a faith community. One value I have suggested to Vestry, for want of a better word, is ‘inclusiveness’. What I mean by this is companionship, choosing to fellowship and breaking bread (that is, share in the hospitality of a meal), with all and any of those that God draws us to, and draws to us, irrespective of churchmanship, sinner or saint. Our house churches or groups are perfect places for this to be expressed. Knowing and understanding the other is more important than uniformity; companionship overcomes difference. It is essential to our humanity, because we are created in the image and likeness of the companion God.